1897: Preaching as Self-Revelation



Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—You constitute the largest class ever sent out by this seminary. I will not say that this class is the ablest and the best, for there were brave men before Agamemnon, and wisdom will not die with you. Hut I will say that we take pride in you, and expect noble work from you. You have strengthened our hands by your conscientiousness and faithfulness; you will help the institution by your labors and influence after you are gone. We wish you to be model ministers of Jesus Christ, to have the highest conception of your vocation, to make the most of yourselves for him. In these last words which I utter in my capacity of instructor I would set forth a new and fruitful aspect of your work. I would speak to you of Preaching As Self-revelation.

There is a principle of self-revelation in the nature of God. His love makes him self-expressing, and the eternal Word is the medium of this manifestation before suns or stars were made. Our finiteness knows nothing of such fullness of communication as that between the Father and the Son, and the very deeps of the divine personality are searched and known by the Holy Spirit. God does not confine his self-manifestation to the inner circle of the Trinity. Creation is the outgoing of his love, the effort to make finite creatures partakers of his secret, to impart himself to them, to make them like himself in his holiness and self-sacrifice.

Man is made in God's image, and that means that the PREACHING AS SELF-REVELATION 4S7

same self-revelation which characterizes God himself is characteristic of normal humanity. Self-revelation is the natural impulse of the good. All genius is a survival of this divine element in man. The great painter or sculptor or poet lives not for money or praise or power, but simply to express himself and to give to others his ideas of beauty and of truth. The child in his artless volubility and self-forgetful confidence speaks out to you his whole soul, and Wordsworth rightly calls him nature's priest, because he is nearer to the heart of God than he is in after years. The noblest minds are those who throw open the windows of their being that the whole world may look in. Bonum communicativum sui—what grander description has ever been given of that love which would make its own good the good of all?

Sin substitutes for this overflow, concealment; for this generosity, narrowness; for this self-revelation, a pitiful self-repression. The outgoing of soul is stopped; each one's good is kept to himself; a jealous eye is turned toward others lest they snatch away what belongs to him; self-aggrandizement takes the place of selfsacrifice. What more damning proof of the ignoble and depraving influence of sin than its tendency to hide, to shut itself in, to separate itself from others! And yet even sin cannot completely prevent the soul's self-manifestation. Even the wicked find it hard to keep their guilty secrets. They are compelled to confess. The voice of the Lord that summoned our first parents to come out from their concealment in the trees of the garden has its counterpart in the voice of our nature which bids every man disclose his sin. The last day will be a day of judgment because it will be a day of confession. By the operation of merely natural law the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed.

Regeneration restores the freedom and the joy of self-manifestation. It is bliss to have nothing to cover up; bliss to tell forth the new love which fills the heart; bliss to speak forth the praises of him who has redeemed us. God gives to the redeemed soul his own Spirit of liberty and love, and love always prompts to self-revelation. Confession of what Christ has done for us is no arbitrary requirement; God's life within clamors for an outlet; the light must shine because it is its nature to shine. The Christian church is the most simple and natural of all means for the self-revelation of the newborn sons of God.

And what is a preacher of the gospel? Simply a Christian farther advanced than the common in this divine privilege of self-manifestation. No lording it over God's heritage, but only a little more insight into truth, a little more experience of its power, and a little more opportunity to tell to sinners round what a dear Saviour he has found. The self-revealing God has wrought within his soul and has filled him with his Spirit, that he may be a self-revealing son of God. This is the truth which Phillips Brooks labored to utter when he said that preaching was truth plus personality,—truth in personal manifestation. Jesus was the great preacher because he was the truth of God incarnated, and speaking through human heart and lips. And we are true preachers just in proportion as the truth of God has free course in us and is glorified by our personal manifestation of its effects in our own life and experience.


There is a sense in which we are to hide behind the crost, to put forward only Christ, to be, like John the Baptist, a mere voice saying, "Behold the Lamb of God!" All self-praise and egotistic- display are indeed unworthy of us and dishonoring to Christ. But that does not mean that we should hide what Christ has done for us,—what he has done is to be made the means of his glory. The true preacher cannot talk out of his heart without telling his personal experience, and that personal experience is worth more than a multitude of abstractions. Paul was no egotist, but in the Acts he never tires of telling the story of his conversion on the way to Damascus. Christ's dealings with him furnish him with illustrations of the gospel. So we must respect the self that is indwelt and taught by God. We must rid ourselves of our natural self-repression and make our whole being an object-lesson and instruction to others. The wicked love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil, but the saints of God are light in the Lord, and they are bound to be the world's luminaries. The preacher of the gospel is to hold forth the word of life by simply letting out the tides of knowledge and love and power with which God has filled his soul.

There are men in this class who may make most able and effective preachers if they will look upon preaching as self-revelation. So long as they regard it as a mechanical repetition of what has been taught them, they will fail to impress men or to please God. But when they put themselves into God's hands and let him use them and speak through them, they will find that the very power of God goes with them. And what I say to some, I say to all: Away with timidity and morbid introspection. You and your powers belong to Christ. Not for nothing has he led you in the past. Not for nothing has he taught you the lessons of his word. Believe in yourselves as regenerated by his Spirit and called to be his representatives. Let the world know what he has taught you and what he has done for you. Do not be afraid to feel or to show your feeling. Do not be afraid to vow and to make known your vows. Let the motto, Aperto vivere voto, be yours. To live with open vow, with purpose unconcealed, with heart disclosed to the world, because your vow, your purpose, your heart are all Christ's,—this will be a security against evil, this will be a power to win others to the knowledge of the truth. May Christ make you all such preachers of the gospel,—open-eyed, large-hearted, freespoken communicators of God's message of salvation, imitators of God himself and of Christ his Son in utter abandonment of consecration! The gospel is the revelation of the heart of God. Let your preaching of it be the revelation of your very hearts, so that men looking into your hearts shall see the very heart of God.